Guest article: The personal toll of technology crises on Irish business leaders

Business, Guest Blog | Thu 22 Aug | Author – Business & Finance
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Noel O’Grady, Director at Sungard AS Ireland, on how cyber attacks, IT outages and network failures can have a negative impact on the mental well-being of Irish business leaders.

Ireland’s growing tech skills gap is causing demand for cyber security related jobs to outpace supply. A recent Indeed study found that the number of these roles jumped 18pc in the last year, while the number of suitable candidates grew by only seven percent.

The impact of cyber attacks on business and critical infrastructure can be devastating, including prolonged service outages, data loss and a huge impact on business growth and performance. The hackers are no longer just individuals in their bedroom looking to steal pots of money; rather nation-states trying to disrupt business and national operations.

For example, in 2017, hackers linked to Russia targeted the Republic of Ireland’s energy sector, intending to infiltrate control systems, security analysts believe. This would also have given them the power to knock out parts of the grid in Northern Ireland.

While it’s imperative that organisations have adequate cyber security resources in order to remain resilient, the disconnect between the availability of cyber talent in Ireland and an ever more complex cyber threat landscape puts huge pressure on business leaders.

The research 

A recent study conducted by Sungard AS into the impact of technology crises on business leaders at a personal level, found a staggering 62pc suffer from stress-related illnesses and/or damage to their mental well-being in the aftermath of cyber attacks, IT outages or network failures.

With the C-Suite more accountable than ever before for the impact of technology on their organisation and its customers, the study of 101 business leaders in companies with 500+ employees in Ireland highlights the extent to which senior executives are linked to their company’s resilience in the hyper-connected world of today.

Here we explore the link between organisation-wide technology crises and personal resilience in the context of today’s IT-dominated landscape.

Who is accountable? 

According to the research findings, CIO/CTOs suffer more often than CEOs as the result of technology crises. Moreover, while the proportion of respondents reporting business disruption causing stress-related illnesses and/or damage to their mental well-being is considerable, the pressure of crises can manifest in different ways.

For example, 79pc of Irish CEOs report that either they or their family members suffer physical or online abuse compared to just 32pc of CIOs/CTOs. This suggests that although those faced with resolving technology issues are suffering more stress, it is those at the top of the organisation who are being held accountable.

As technology continues to permeate every aspect of modern-day business, CIOs and CTOs are now increasingly aware of the ramifications of a failure on their watch, where they seem to suffer the responsibility more than CEOs in Ireland.

Traditionally, technology has been considered to be in the remit of the IT function, and the research suggests this still holds true. However, in today’s technology-centric business landscape, this tradition no longer applies.

Weathering the storm

Ransomware, for example, can access an organisation’s network through the non-malicious actions of a single employee within any part of the business. Phishing attempts can trick employees into clicking on to something that gives the ransomware entry and the hacker then goes on to access, damage or block operations elsewhere on the network.

In an inter-connected world, ensuring business resilience is a collective responsibility in every organisation and not the sole responsibility of those at the top, is essential to business operations. Writing resilience into the DNA of a businesses and propagating the technological knowledge needed to weather different IT storms at every level, is vital to maintaining a successful business.

Ireland’s tech boom 

Although Ireland’s tech boom has taken place since the 1990s, the past few years have seen the Irish tech sector ramping up even further. The volume of new office deals signed in Dublin in the first quarter of 2019 grew by 66pc, according to BNP Paribas real estate report, compared with the same period in 2018.

This has been driven by global multinationals – including Salesforce, Facebook and Docusign – either setting up or expanding operations in and around the city’s ‘Silicon Docks’. Simultaneously, there has been a jump in Ireland’s already high cloud-adoption rates, with 45pc of Irish enterprises purchasing cloud computing services in 2018, according to CSO figures. This is well above the EU-28 average of 26pc.

The front line

With cloud-migration high on the agenda for Irish enterprises and the rapid realisation of Ireland as a central EMEA hub for global tech giants, it’s understandable why CIOs/CTOs may be feeling the pressure to drive their company’s growth. This is reflected in our results: in the UK, when asked who takes responsibility when a crisis occurs, more respondents pointed toward the CEO (40pc) than the CIO/CTO (34pc).

In contrast, a majority of Irish businesses point to the CIO/IT Director/CTO (49pc) – considerably more than the 34pc who say it is the CEO. With technology currently playing such a pivotal role in driving economic growth in Ireland – one of the fastest growing countries in the EU in 2019 – the resulting pressure and competition is more often being passed on to those on the tech front line, rather than business heads themselves.

Being aware

Nobody wants to suffer a crisis on their watch. We’ve seen the personal toll manifest already in instances of CEOs exiting their role as a result of being unable to protect their businesses from technology crises.

But as these results have made clear, the impact on CIOs/CTOs may be as great if not greater, as they battle on the front line against these issues. Awareness of how crises impact staff in different ways can help companies remain agile, available and secure at all times, while crucially, also contributing to the personal welfare of employees.

About the author

Noel O'Grady

Noel O’Grady, Sungard Availability Services

Noel O’Grady is Director – Sales Ireland at Sungard AS where he supports companies with their production and recovery projects including DRaaS, IT Resilience and Workplace Recovery.